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Ancient History

Lorne_Michaels_David_Shankbone_2010When I was a young kid in the late 1900s, I used to think that Saturday Night Live was the most grown-up thing imaginable. It was cool. It was on the cutting-edge of show business. It was risqué. It was late at night. I thought I was the coolest kid around when my parents would let me stay up and watch. Ever since then, SNL has been one of my favorite shows, and I have always admired its smart comedy and featured talent, from Wayne’s World to Norm MacDonald to Tina Fey.

Then, when I got a little older and started writing and performing music, in my wildest dreams I would envision myself one day getting famous enough to play as the musical guest on SNL.

However, life caught up with me and I found my calling not as a songwriter, but as a father and a student of psychology. So I abandoned my dream of ever being on that stage, and now I’m just raising my family and working hard at my master’s thesis.

Then again, I have been reading some of the history of Saturday Night Live, and once again came across the fact that way back in Season 3, a few years before I was born, you had a contest called “Anyone Can Host,” in which Miskel Spillman, aged 80 years old, won and was given the opportunity of a lifetime. Based on what was likely the rousing success of that show, you never had a contest like that again.

I’m writing this blog post to help you revisit that idea. Let me host your show.

I know what you’re thinking, and I understand. Maybe I don’t have any “qualifications” or “acting talent.” Maybe I actually know very little about how shows are “filmed” and “produced.” It’s possible that I would be a kind of ratings “wild card,” and maybe it’s likely that I would just “embarrass myself.” And who knows, maybe I haven’t really been “watching” the show since I got Netflix and can’t afford cable. Perhaps I’m actually not willing to put any “work” into this or “follow this through.”

And you know, it’s possible that I “freeze up” around anyone remotely famous, and feel like I want to “vomit.” Maybe I turned into a “babbling idiot” the day I met Michael Wilton‘s wife (yes, the Michael Wilton’s wife) at their kid’s soccer game in Seattle. Maybe the one time I met Alan Sparhawk, the lead singer and guitarist of the underground indie band Low, I “made my wife talk for me.” Maybe when I saw King’s X play at a festival in Cincinnati a few years ago, and got the band to sign my guitar, I saw them play again a few months later and Doug Pinnick pointed out that he “didn’t remember me” (yes, the Doug Pinnick didn’t remember me).

Maybe my religious upbringing would cause me to feel “uncomfortable” saying bad words, discussing adult topics, or drinking or smoking on the air, causing me to be somewhat “limited” in what skits I would feel comfortable being in. Maybe the only two “outcomes” out of this would be 1) I completely fail and do so in front of millions of people, or 2) do moderately well and become “Joe the Plumber” famous, causing me to forfeit my hard work in graduate school only to sink into obscurity empty-handed a year later with only a short Wikipedia stub to comfort me.

And so what if my only “acting experience” was a play in high school, where I “forgot my lines” and quit theater because I kept “forgetting my lines.” Maybe I have very little “comedic timing” or the ability to “empathize” with characters.  Maybe I have no “room” in my “schedule” for the time off to be on SNL. Maybe I haven’t really “thought this out entirely,” or I’m just writing this open letter because I’m “avoiding” doing work on my master’s thesis, which is only halfway done.

And hey – it’s possible that the reason I quit performing music and never landed anything remotely like a record deal, is that I was only “local musician” good and not “actually” good. Maybe my voice is, as my close friends say, “pitchy.” Maybe during the few moments in my career when I actually got somewhat close to what I thought could be a break, I “lost my grip on reality” so to speak. And perhaps being on television would send me “plummeting over the edge” and “wishing I could have my innocence back.” And maybe I’m stretching the already-thin premise of this blog post tissue-paper thin because, as I said before, I really need to be working on my master’s thesis and this is helping to distract me from writing my master’s thesis.

But let’s face it – this is the new face of celebrity, right here. We both know that this is how it works these days: someone without qualifications or talent does something derivative but mildly funny (not LMAO funny, but sort of heh funny)  on the Internet, on a blog nobody reads (check), and then suddenly a bunch of people share it on social networks and Twitter and what not, and it goes viral and then Reddit does something and then the networks take notice, and finally I do whatever I want. That’s how it works. I don’t need talent, I just need a bunch of robotic minions to take five seconds out of their busy schedules full of internet pornography and petitions for their state to secede from the US, and arbitrarily click share. I don’t even have to be funny or talented – I just have to be so deluded that I really think I deserve this.

Because I do. I do deserve this.

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I am not sure that my generation has earned the right to be nostalgic about our childhoods.

I had a coworker a few years back who discovered YouTube, and watched a ton of commercials from the ’60s and ’70s, when he was a kid.  Forty year old commercials for a bunch of dangerous toys with toxic paint and everything.  The dude was in heaven.  That guy earned his nostalgia.

Why?  Because he hasn’t seen any of those commercials for like thirty or forty years.  He was reacquainting this distant, neglected part of his brain with jingles for Ovaltine that he hadn’t heard since the Nixon administration.

I worry about my generation, though.  I don’t think I’ve gone a day online without seeing some meme about Star Wars, Batman, or Super Nintendo from people in my age group.  But the thing is, guys, we never lost Star Wars or SNES.  A ton of you still have the same SNES systems that you played when you were a kid.  15 years ago the last holdouts traded their VHS versions of the Star Wars trilogy for DVD versions, and then 5 years ago you all changed them to Blu-Rays.  We’re only like 30. Read More

Back at the end of the 20th Century, right around the time when I started using Google (before this I was an AltaVista man), I wondered how many other Arthur Hattons there were on the Earth.  Thus, like many others in this crazy age of information, I Googled my own name out of curiosity.

My name is pretty rare.  I have met perhaps two or three Arthurs in my entire life, which is actually fine by me, because I rather like my name and if I’m the only one with it, people can usually identify me without the need for a last initial.  I don’t need to be like “Joey P.” and “Joey M.” in my 2nd grade class.  The other thing about the name Arthur is that it was far more popular in previous decades and centuries, which is probably why I have been on AARP mailing lists since I was 24 years old (I assure you, I didn’t sign up for these myself).  The same goes for my last name, though I have met quite a few Hattons in my life because I have a very large Mormon family in Kentucky that goes back about five generations in the state.  However, the relative rarity of my first and last names have ensured that I don’t really expect to meet another Arthur Hatton in my life unless I decide to give that name to one of my own offspring.

And so I was completely shocked when, after a little Google search, I not only found the obituaries of a few Arthur Hattons (one who died in World War I actually), I also found an Arthur Hatton Elementary School in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Who is this Arthur Hatton who did something so amazing that he had an elementary school named after him?  I couldn’t find out from their website.  I couldn’t find out with Google.  So I sent the school an email.  They haven’t responded for a decade, so I was feeling pretty safe in thinking that they weren’t going to.

Until today, when I sent them another email.

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Left to right: Matthew Ryan, Arthur Hatton

I once told someone that having someone else play one of your songs is like letting them take care of your child, and that’s why (as I discussed in a previous entry) I stopped playing in bands and stuck with an acoustic guitar. It’s not that I didn’t want to write hard rock or play electric guitar solos, it’s just that finding the perfect combination of people who really respected each other and could be entrusted with emotionally sensitive music is so incredibly difficult that I think it’s really only happened to me once in my life. Musically, I trust Matthew Ryan with my music more than anyone I’ve known, and this has led to the best musical friendship I’ve had in my life. Read More

This is not quite how I remember it - there was no temple when I was there.

I’m not going to tell you that living in Rexburg was the best time of my life.  I met some amazing friends there and grew in a lot of ways, but I was not happy.  I grew up in a small town in Kentucky, thinking that the thing that made me different was my Mormon faith.  When I first experienced a town full of Mormons, I realized that wasn’t it at all.  I was just different.  There was also a strange dynamic there – the whole town was divided into a very strong, very literalistic and conservative Mormon majority, and then a minority backlash of people that couldn’t stand Mormonism or anything it stood for.  I wasn’t either of those things, so I never did feel like I fully fit in there.  I am pretty sure most of my friends at the time felt a great deal of what could only be called pity for me, especially as the Fall of 2002 ended.  I should be surprised that this was 10 years ago, but in all reality it seems like so much longer ago than that.  I guess I’ve come a long way since then.

Along with all that emotional tension comes musical inspiration, and I found quite a bit of it in Rexburg.  I hadn’t really fully developed my songwriting at that time, and because I felt emotionally depressed and socially inept, I think my songs lacked the power they could have had if I were a more mature person, emotionally and musically.  When I got off my mission, I really listened to Elliott Smith for the first time, and realized that he was actually performing the music I was trying to write in Rexburg, but lacked the ability to pull off.  Hearing those songs now would probably be nostalgic but painful for me, though I do find some solace in the fact that there were some amazing musicians in Rexburg who appreciated my music. Read More

I have decided to write a short series on the musicians I’ve played and interacted with in my musical past.  All these musicians had an impact on me, and for posterity’s sake I think I ought to make that known.  Not only that, a few of them are still cranking out awesome tunes that I can point readers towards.

Way back in the mists of time, in the late 1900s, I was completely missing the death of grunge due to the fact that I missed the birth of grunge, too.  I didn’t know much about grunge at all actually.  It’s not necessarily that I was too young (though I admit I was only in 4th grade when Kurt Cobain died), it’s more that I wasn’t really that cool.

When I was in 5th grade, my mother insisted that if I wanted to learn how to play guitar I would have to pick a classical stringed instrument first.  I didn’t understand her reasoning at all at the time, because I wasn’t interested in guitar whatsoever.  I listened primarily to baroque music.  If you’re unfamiliar with baroque music, let’s just say that whereas rockers and punks make fun of classical music fans, classical music fans, in a classic example of Freudian displacement, make fun of baroque music fans.  Baroque is the least hip, nerdiest version of classical music there is.  If classical music is a sci-fi convention, baroque music is the Farscape booth. Read More